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‘Chief’ Davis gets Council’s OK

by James Coleman —

C.J. Davis’ first day on the job as chief of the Memphis Police Department will be June 14.

The Memphis City Council voted 11-1 to approve the hiring of Durham, North Carolina’s former police chief at its meeting on Tuesday (May 4). Her salary will be the same as former director Mike Rallings’ $230,037.60. Rallings retired in April.

Meanwhile, Decarcerate Memphis, a local grassroots organization focused on criminal justice reform, released an open letter outlining actionable steps that the group wants Davis to take in her first 100 days.

The letter calls on Davis to “embrace the community beyond words by taking swift action to reform the culture and structure of MPD.”

The 30-year law enforcement veteran will be the first woman to lead MPD. She also has served with the Atlanta Police Department.

“For the critics, I want you to know that based on my impression of her, she’s going to bring fresh ideas,” said Councilman JB Smiley Jr. “She brings us something different. She brings us a new perspective….”

Memphis City Council members Cheyenne Johnson and JB Smiley Jr. listen intently to C.J. Davis, who secured their support as the new chief of the Memphis Police Department. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

Mayor Jim Strickland nominated Davis, who also served as president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), in mid-April.

In the weeks following her nomination, Davis met with various Memphis leaders to hear concerns. 

As chief, Davis faces many challenges. Memphis is exploring different policies and practices in policing. These include strategies to improve transparency, accountability, community relations and checking excessive force.

While serving as president of NOBLE, she recommended banning chokeholds and the creation of a national officer misconduct database.

“Thank you for agreeing to come and serve here in Memphis,” said council member Jeff Warren. “We’re really, really excited about moving forward with our group violence intervention plan. Your experience there will be invaluable.

“We have a lot of young men and women who are dying needlessly. We are going to try and help you help them as much as possible.”

Seven finalists, including several in-house candidates, already had been interviewed when Davis was proposed for the job. Interim Director James Ryall backed Davis’ nomination.

Same-night minutes on the Davis-approval vote were requested by Councilman Chase Carlisle and seconded by Councilmember Patrice J. Robinson. Voting in favor were council members Frank Colvett Jr., Jamita Swearengen, Worth Morgan, Edmund Ford Sr., Michalyn Easter-Thomas, Johnson, J. Ford Canale, Smiley, Warren, Robinson and Carlisle.

The lone no vote came from Councilman Martavius Jones, citing personal feelings. He had indicated a preference for an in-house successor. However, he vowed to support Davis.

“This is just my personal conviction of what I think this Police Department deserves,” said Jones. “Notwithstanding, whatever I can do to help make you successful, I will do so.”

Councilmember Rhonda Logan abstained, expressing a preference for an internal candidate, but also committed to support Davis.

Decarcerate Memphis

Incoming Memphis Police Department chief C.J. Davis. (Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

In its open letter, the group calls for, among other things, limiting the use of militarized police at protests, making a commitment to engage in good faith with recommendations made by Memphis’ Civilian Law Enforcement Review Board and hosting monthly public meetings to address concerns and take questions and recommendations from community members.

“With cautious optimism, we see a shift in administration as an opportunity to engage in good faith toward systemic change that will result in a safer, more just city,” the group stated in the letter.

“We welcome the opportunity to meet with the incoming Police Chief in an effort to begin a dialogue toward those ends and look forward to a timely response to these items.”

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